Exploring birds that are not-alike in preschool

In my previous post I shared the terrific book titled, “No Two Alike by Kieth Baker and how we made snowflakes that are not alike but we didn’t stop there.  This book introduces some wonderful illustrations of birds, nests, fences, and animal tracks that are also not alike and we explored them all throughout our ‘not-alike’ unit….

We explored the concept of “not-alike” through a variety of content areas including fine motor, sensory, dramatic play, and creative art…

I found fake birds and nests on clearance at a store called Garden Ridge – they were actually Christmas tree ornaments with little clips on the bottom for “bird feet.” The children loved these birds and no matter what we did, the children wanted to hold a bird or keep a bird next to their side all day long…

During circle time, we examined a real nest that I had found in my yard earlier this year.  We brainstormed how nests are alike and how they are not-alike as we passed the nest around the circle…

And we had to bring a bird to hold during circle time. I had originally asked the children to put the birds in the basket before they came to circle time but this idea wasn’t going over so well.  So we each picked a bird, put it in our lap, and we were now ready to read our story together…

For sensory play, I set out a small amount of playdough and “nest-making” materials. The children used the playdough to make additional eggs which ultimately led to lots of dramatic play that included the mommy birds keeping their eggs warm…

We started off at a small table with our birds, nests and playdough play but soon had to move it over to a larger table so the children could spread the materials out a little bit more. Although all the children spent time in playing with these materials, I had three little girls that played “mommy birds” exclusively at this table for pretty much the entire last 45 minutes of our day…

For fine motor play – I set out homemade “birds,” which were simply clothespins with feathers hot glued to one side, and sticks. The children explored the homemade birds by clipping them on twigs I had previously gathered…

This fine motor activity was great for keeping little hands occupied while my assistant and I cleaned up snack and prepared for our next activity…

For creative art we used the same materials that were for our bird and nest sensory play and created our own paper plate bird nests to take home…

The children squeezed out glue all over a small paper plate then pressed the “bird nest materials” on top of the glue…

Reflecting on the day…

Although I enjoy my class everyday, there are still those specific days that you look back and say, “Wow, that was a really good day!” – and this was one of those days.  After all the kids went home I reflected on what it was that made this particular day so exceptional. I know it is a combination of things but I thought I would break down a few of the important components that made our day go so well…

  1. Sensory Play is such an important part of the preschool experience – especially for my three year olds.  I find that any time I provide quality time and materials for sensory play, the children are always far more engaged and relaxed throughout the day – and much more willing to try other non-sensory based activities that I provide.
  2. Routine is also an important part of the preschool experience. Because we have a consistent order to our day, the children are becoming more capable in their ability to transition from one part of our day to the next without it becoming chaotic or stressful.  For example, I no longer have to remind my students, most of the time, to throw their trash away after snack – they just automatically finish their snack then clean up their space. Routines help young children master basic skills which leads to greater understanding of teacher expectations, greater confidence, smoother transitions, and less stress for everyone.
  3. Flexibility within the daily routine and within the environment is also important.  Although I had each center set up for play, I realized that the materials the children were most interested in were placed on the smallest table. So after snack, we cleared off a bigger table that I had planned to use for something else and moved the materials that they were most interested in over to the bigger table.
  4. Time for free play is very, very, very important to my students. When my students are given adequate time for free play, they are clearly more at peace in the classroom and more willing to participate in circle time, small group activities, and other more planned or structured types of activities. Play time cannot be given the short end of the stick!  As I have observed my children at play this year, I have been able to clearly see that play evolves through fairly specific patterns or stages (which is an entire discussion by itself). As children are given the necessary time they need to work through each stage of play, their play becomes more positive, more constructive, more interactive, more comprehensive, more thoughtful, more imaginative, and more complex.
  5. Environment is a critical component of creating a successful preschool experience.  From the materials I provide in each center to the arrangement of the furniture to the organization of the materials, the environment matters. At one point during our day I stopped to look around and I saw children engaged in peaceful, positive, interactive, hands-on play in every part of my classroom.
  6. Familiarity with each other.  Because all of my students come on a part time basis, it has taken them longer to establish friendships and to get to really know each other.  But I can see we are bridging that gap now and it is making a difference in their ability to play positively and comfortably together.

Keep in mind that my students are only in my care for three hours a day and during that time, I want them to accomplish certain goals but I have learned that I have to meet them where they are. When I pay attention and gear my planning around what the children need rather than what I want the children to do – they, in return, accomplish so much more.
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By |2011-12-30T12:00:42+00:00December 30th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Trisha December 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Wow! Thank you for this post. I love the ideas and your insightful observations. Another cute book I need to buy:)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      I just love this book!

  2. Sheryl @Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds December 30, 2011 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    More wonderful ideas! LOVE the feathers on the clothespins! (And I just loved your words about free play. I feel very strongly about this, too.)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      Thank you Sheryl – I do too!

  3. Jan C December 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Fun activities!

    I would love to hear more of your thoughts about #4 and the stages of play

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 30, 2011 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      I would love to really sit down and write about the stages of play – at least from my observations. It is something I am really getting my mind wrapped around this year and it is helping me find a good place for me and my students.

  4. Vicki Blacken January 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    Deborah, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments about what is really valuable and important for young children! I see evidence for this every day in our school. What breaks my heart, however, is when prospective parents come in to check it out and say, “It looks like you just play here. My child would not be challenged here.” It always makes me wonder how many little children are sitting quietly at preschool tables across the country coloring “inside the lines” on printed worksheets, instead of actively exploring their preschool environments and really engaging in their learning. We need more like you to vocalize how important these kinds of play experiences are for our youngest ones. Thanks so much for what you do. It also gives the rest of us who also believe in providing lots of free play opportunities the support to keep doing what we know is best for the kids.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 7, 2012 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      Hi Vicki,
      It is true – there is much to be done when it comes to helping parents and members in our own communities understand the role plays in educating young children. I feel like I am learning more everyday as I teach my own class then reflect on my observations here in this blog. I hope it will make a difference in some small way. I appreciate your comment and your passion for making learning exciting and engaging for young children!

  5. Joy January 12, 2012 at 4:28 am - Reply

    I absolutely love this post. It’s perfect for me, because my preschoolers have become very interested in birds lately. They have made their own nests out of pine needles and pretended to be birds. I’d love to use some of your ideas, especially the clothespin/feather birds and letting children play with nest materials, birds, and play dough eggs. What material did you use for the nest? A parent just donated old Christmas decorations, including a few beautiful fake birds. My preschoolers will love this!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 12, 2012 at 7:48 am - Reply

      I found the brown nest looking material in the gardening/flower section of the store. I don’t remember what it is called:)

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